111th Reconnaissance Squadron
World War II Narrative History
Part VII: North Africa
Our march along the dusty roads leading to St. Leu was made in
single file with plenty of space between men and with files on both sides of the road. A
sharp lookout was kept for aircraft. The day was growing hotter by the minute and the
sweat oozed through our gas-impregnated woolen uniforms. Our steaming faces were plastered
with chalky dust. The bivouac area outside of St. Leu was a flat plain covered with wheat
stubble and dotted with strawstacks. Hungry, but too tired to worry about food, we spread
ourselves out in the straw to rest. The little blue booklets we had been issued stated
that Algeria had little, if any, rain during the month of November. That night we received
Algerias allotment for the next twenty-five years!
We stayed at St. Leu for one week, during which
details were returned to the beach at Arzew to help unload the ships in the harbor and
stand guard over the squadron equipment until transport was available. We divided into
groups of twelve men with each group receiving a box of British field rations for one day.
Certain components of the rations made excellent eating, although there seemed to be an
overabundance of steak and kidney pudding, for which we had no liking. Each group did its
own cooking and for a week we thrived on canned bacon, beans and pork, cheese, date and
marmalade puddings, "boiled sweets," and topped off each repast with a Players
Navy Cut cigarette. The less said about the hardtack biscuits the better.
On November 16 we moved to the air field at
Tafaroui, which is just a few miles from Oran. By this time we were firmly convinced that
the man who had written the weather section of the little "blue book" was a
practical joker of the lowest order. The flat plains were seas of gumbo and the continuous
downpours kept them that way. We pitched four-man pup tents to give us protection against
the wind in all directions, and made floors out of ration-box cardboard and planking.
Every man had himself a fox-hole within spitting distance. The mess section was set up on
the lee side of a shrapnel-packed show and we were now eating hot steak and kidney
pudding. No improvement. The area around the mess tent was ankle deep in mud and the man
in the outfit who, at one time or another, did not take a header into that goo with his
mess-kit contents pouring all over himself, is a fortunate character indeed.
On November 24 the "per diem" boys
flew in with our new A-20s, and the tales that were swapped between the air and
ground echelons rivaled those of Paul Bunyan. The arrival of the planes meant that there
was much work to be done and darned little to do it with, outside of a lot of willing
hands. The tools and equipment we had crated and shipped from Charlotte had not caught up
with us. Despite this handicap and the adverse weather conditions, the work was soon
accomplished. In North Africa there are Arabs, and the Arab is the undisputed worlds
champion business man. They soon learned we were a booming market for tangerines and eggs
and were not too much worried about the price. The price of eggs shot up from two francs
to fifteen francs apiece, and tangerines from one cigarette a dozen to one package per
dozen. Times were getting hard.
By December 19 the entire squadron had moved to
the air field near Oujda, French Morocco. Here we were joined by the remainder of the 68th
Observation Group, who had landed near Wedala on the west African coast. The new air field
provided excellent hangar facilities and also buildings for our section shops. Here, too,
we received P-39 pursuit-type planes, and these, as well as the light bombers, were rigged
up with depth charges. We were soon flying submarine patrol missions over the
Christmas Eve, 1942, brought the news of Admiral
Darlans assassination in Algiers and the entire base was alerted in anticipation of
possible trouble. It might be added that the eggnog which the mess section had prepared
for the occasion was not wasted. On New Years Eve we were again alerted, this time
against the possibility of enemy parachutist attack. We were grateful that nothing
On January 14, 1943, our commanding officer,
Captain Robert E. Bough, was killed when his plane crashed not far from the base. First
Lieutenant James H. Deering, Jr., became our new squadron commander.
The days spent at Oujda were busy and
uncomfortable ones. Maintenance of the aircraft was hampered by our lack of equipment and
the weather was either bad or worse. The men slept in fox-holes that had been dug through
layers of rock, and with the continuous rain it was impossible to keep mud and water out
of our sacks. We stuffed our mattress covers with straw and slept on them until after a
long and especially hard rain, most of us woke to find our mattresses and blankets
floating alongside of us. Neither we nor our blankets and clothes were ever dry again
until spring. Another thing the "little blue book" writer failed to tell us - it
snows in Africa. And even when it doesnt snow the winter days are sharp and brisk
and the nights are downright frigid. A pair of warm, dry socks was our idea of paradise.
An African spring is comparable to a Mississippi
heat wave. Within a week after the sun had made its first all-day appearance the brown and
barren earth was covered with a fine, irritating dust. Then the sirocco put in an
appearance, the whirling dust blotted out the sun and we were forced to wear goggles and
dust respirators as means of protection for our eyes and lungs. With the coming of warmer
weather and dried-out blankets we began to sleep with our clothes off for the first time.
Some of the fellows took to washing regularly and even took sponge baths, using their
helmets as bath tubs. A detachment from our photo section went to Tunisia to aid the 154th
Squadron, and reports which returned from them convinced us that the war up that way was
really rough. During our off-duty hours we played baseball, basketball and volleyball. We
had movies shown several times a week and reached a new high when Martha Raye staged a
personal appearance for our benefit. We all felt highly indebted to Martha for her fine
performance. In March we received our first Mustangs and on April 7, 1943, we took them
and our P-39s to Guercif, French Morocco, where we were to engage in practice
gunnery and further training.
Guercifs only claim to fame was the fact
that it was a French Foreign Legion post and its location marked the northwestern end of
the Sahara Desert. Uncle Sam added third and fourth feathers by furnishing two lovely
young Red Cross ladies to maintain a club for us in this forsaken hole. The war in Tunisia
came to its conclusion on May 12, 1943, and on May 24, the 111th squadron moved eastward
to Nouvion, Algeria.
The trip from Guercif to Nouvion was made in the
infamous 40 and 8 railway box cars. We were assigned eighteen men to a car and even then
couldnt roll over without disturbing at least four men. Trainloads of German
prisoners passed us going west and each of their cars contained the full complement of 40
men. Even at that we envied them because they were being shipped to the States. The trip
lasted three days - long days.
Nouvion provided fine barracks and double-deck
bunks. We were getting up in the world: pup tents in Oujda, pyramidal tents in Guercif,
and now - barracks. The base also boasted a fine outdoor movie. The only rub was that the
shows couldnt start until after dark, and dark didnt come until well after 10
oclock. The days were so hot that between the hours of 12 and 3 in the afternoon
eggs could be fried on the wings of the airplanes. During these hours no work was
attempted, so we caught up on sleep lost through attendance at the previous nights
show. First Sergeant Hunt and Sergeants Hubbard, Luke and Stidston were given direct
commissions as "shavetails" and Sergeant Eddie Renken became our new Hook
n Bill. While at Nouvion the squadron was redesignated as the 111th Reconnaissance
Squadron, and we were to operate independently from the group. During our twenty-six-day
stay we serviced completely upwards of fifty P-39s and P-51 s.
From Nouvion one-half of the squadron was flown
to Bou Fischa, Tunisia, by transport lane. Little work was done while at this station and
we took advantage of the break to visit Sousse, Tunis, Sfax, Enfidavillo, and other towns
in which some of the Tunisian Campaigns bitterest battles were fought. This easy
life was short-lived, however, and the echelon moved to Korba on Cape Bon while those of
the squadron who had remained at Nouvion convoyed by truck to Tunis. In Tunis they camped
in a staging area and readied themselves for the next invasion by waterproofing the
vehicles and loading them on LSTs to await the "Go" signal.
Those who were on Cape Bon were keeping the
aircraft flying over Sicily on the now familiar "dawn-to-dusk" schedule, and
were cursing the fates that had returned them to pup tents and ankle-deep red dust. On the
eve of July 10 we were briefed on the over-all plan for the invasion of Sicily which was
to begin shortly after midnight. We were all relieved to know that our remaining days in
Africa were to be few.
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